Sunday, March 10, 2019

small scale business

small scale business

A struggling co-op survives thanks to a village and volunteers -

Posted: 10 Mar 2019 08:00 AM PDT

PLAIN — Honey Creek Market isn't your typical grocery co-op.

While others like Madison-based Willy Street Co-op, Yahara River Grocery Co-op in Stoughton and Viroqua Food Co-op in Vernon County are known for their organic produce, vegan options and bulk grains, the inventory at Honey Creek is more in line with that of a Pick'n Save or Woodman's Market, although on a much smaller scale.

The co-op, with just more than 100 members, offers mainstream and brand-name products along with a small mix of locally produced foods. As the only full-service grocery store in this Sauk County village of more than 700 people, the business provides a vital service for local residents who otherwise would have to drive 8 miles to the Hometown Supermarket in Spring Green, 22 miles to the Walmart Supercenter in Richland Center or 18 miles to the Piggly Wiggly in Sauk City.

But Honey Creek Market's business model is also different from most co-ops and regular grocery stores. That's why, for the first time in five years, the small store across the street from the I-Diehl Tap and a block south of Straka Meats, is in the black, although its future is tenuous.

Honey Creek Market

This box is used to collect cash donations aimed at supporting the operations of Honey Creek Market.

While there was a steady stream of regular customers buying loaves of freshly made bread, gallons of milk, heads of lettuce and jugs of laundry soap, much of the success in 2018 can be credited to a team of 14 volunteers who supported the staff of seven part-time paid employees at the co-op.

"We wouldn't be here if it weren't for the volunteers," said Mary Mercier, a member of the co-op's board of directors for the last three years. "It's made all of the difference. This is a unique community. The connections between people here are stronger than most small towns."

Honey Creek Market

The Honey Creek Market, a grocery co-op in downtown Plain, is trying to draw new members and customers and is the only grocery store in the village.

Those connections also include years of donations from an anonymous investment group that has poured thousands of dollars into the business to keep it afloat.

Plain was established in the 1880s and became a village in 1912 although St. Luke's Catholic Church was founded as a mission parish here in 1857. The village's Bavarian roots are showcased each October with Strassenfest while the Schnitzelbank Restaurant offers up German fare year-round. Kraemer Construction, one of the state's largest construction companies, is here as is award-winning Cedar Grove Cheese.

Honey Creek Market

Peggy Whitford, left, shops at Honey Creek Market in Plain almost every day while John Feiner, right, has been a part of the co-op since its inception.

The grocery store also has a long history. Phil's Foods, owned by the Bettinger family since 1918, was sold to the co-op in 2013, however, Lew and Joy Bettinger continue to own the 6,400-square-foot store at the corner of Alma and Main streets. The co-op had planned to buy the building after five years but the Bettingers have extended the lease by a year to give the co-op more time to determine its fate. The options could be buying the building, moving or closing the business.

In 2018, sales were down 10 percent to $441,925, but the payroll was reduced by $44,289. In addition, cash donations declined to $3,037 compared to $35,348 from about 35 donors whose gifts ranged from a few dollars to several thousand. But the bottom line showed a profit of $11,458 for the year.

But this year is off to a slow start as sales are lagging by two percent over the first two months when compared to 2018 while donations and membership renewals are a combined $600 more than last year at this time.

Honey Creek Market

Despite heavy snow cover and below normal temperatures, vegetable seeds are on display at Honey Creek Market in Plain.

"The board, which I'm not on anymore, decided they're going to take a look at things in May and June and see where we're at," said John Feiner, 71, who has been with the co-op since its inception but is now the store's assistant manager. "We've been at this brink here at least five or six times."

Local products include sausage and ring bologna from Straka Meats and cheese from Cedar Grove Cheese both in Plain; wine from Wollersheim Winery near Prairie du Sac, bagels from Bagels Forever in Madison, locally harvested maple syrup and honey and homemade pulled pork, bread, cookies and take-and-bake pizza by in-house deli chef, Alice Ruhland. Eggs from Mary's Organic Farm, a few miles out of town are expected to make an appearance in the coming weeks.

Honey Creek Market

Local foods at Honey Creek Market include cheese from Cedar Grove Cheese just east of Plain.

Donations to the co-op have included $10,000 to restock the store in 2016 and $10,000 to replace some refrigeration and freezer systems, which is now saving $800 a month in energy costs. Initially, there was a $150 lifetime membership but after two years that was changed to a $75 annual membership fee, which cut its membership in half to 125 from about 250.

In 2018, the business never went into the red overall, despite losing money in February, May, August and November.

Honey Creek Market

Bob Neuheisel is active in the village of Plain. He has been a longtime EMT and firefighter and had a three-year stint on the board of directors of Honey Creek Market. Last week, he brought Light, a 3-month-old golden retriever he is training as a service dog for Madison-based OccuPaws, to the market.

And that gives Feiner and Mercier hope that the store, where a wooden donation box to support the co-op sits at the checkout counter, has a future. The volunteer program launched in 2017 and includes some students from River Valley High School and several residents who are retired.

"I didn't know if the volunteer program would work," Feiner said. "Right now it's a year-to-year program."

"Our future hope is that sales will increase and we will get better at what we're doing and we'll be able to replace our volunteers with paid employees," Mercier said. "We want to support the community and offer more employment."

La Belle entrepreneur to appear on Shark Tank - Boonville Daily News

Posted: 10 Mar 2019 07:47 AM PDT

La Belle native Lucinda Cramsey began her company with an aim to connect "tender-hearted carnivores" with ethically raised meat. Now, she will be appearing on the ABC television show "Shark Tank" Sunday to pitch her meat subscription service, Moink, to investors.

Cramsey said she and her husband, Adam Cramsey, founded the company with the intention of providing consumers concerned about where their meat comes from with an alternative to grocery store labels like "organic" or "free-range" that do not tell the whole story.

"The label is only as good as the person willing to stand behind us," Cramsey said.

"Shark Tank" features entrepreneurs pitching their companies to five business leaders who consider investing. The show provides business owners an opportunity to gain funding to scale up their companies as well as publicity. "Shark Tank" is currently airing its 10th season.

Cramsey said her goal in applying for the show was to scale up her subscription box business and begin offering more options.

Moink partners with small-scale farmers to offer customizable boxes that include options like wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef and lab and pasture-raised pork and chicken. Customers select the meats they want to receive and receive regular deliveries every three, four or six weeks.

The company currently ships to thousands of consumers in the 48 contiguous U.S. states, Cramsey said.

Cramsey said what sets Moink's meat products apart from others is that the meat is prepared naturally, without additives like antibiotics, sugar or nitrates.

"You can really taste the quality difference," Cramsey said.

Cramsey said in addition to treating animals well, her company offers small family farmers an opportunity to connect with consumers and compete against large corporations.

Cramsey said she was instantly nervous when she learned that her application to appear on "Shark Tank" had been accepted and she would be picking her products on television.

"It was an extremely nerve-wracking experience," Cramsey said. "I was sweating in places I didn't know a person could sweat."

Though Cramsey could not reveal the outcome of her pitch meeting with the sharks before the episode airs, she said appearing on the show was a positive experience and she was very grateful for the opportunity. She said she hopes her appearance will help more people connect with the experiences of the 2 percent of Americans who are farmers.

For more information on Moink or to start a subscription, visit Cramsey's "Shark Tank" episode will air at 9 p.m. Sunday.

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